I first posted this in April 2005. It is time to resurrect it as I prepare myself for Easter and my message for the day, which I am tentatively calling: Dying so that We Might Live. The original post consisted of the following quotes from Robert Capon, all of which are about the need for us to die to ourselves. I believe this is true for individuals and for the church as well.
Jesus solves the world’s problems by dying. And unless we are willing to see our own death as the one thing necessary for our salvation, we will never be able to enjoy the resurrection, even though Jesus hands it to us on a silver platter. If we refuse to die, we will cut ourselves off from ever knowing the joy of his grace in us. In heaven there are only forgiven sinners, there are only failures who have accepted their deaths in their sins and who have been raised up by the king who himself died that they might live.
And if that isn’t clear enough, Capon goes on to say:
Jesus’ program remains the same. He saves losers and only losers. He rejoices more over the last, the least, and the little than over all the winners in the world. He raises the dead and only the dead.
Follow me, Jesus says, follow me into my death, because it is only in my death and resurrection that the kingdom comes. Nothing counts now except being last, least, lost, little and dead with me. Follow me, Jesus says. And in the end these two simple words are all that matter.
To these quotes, let me add a few more.
From Darryl at Dying Church:
It struck me this week that every church is a dying church in some sense:
Some churches are literally dying. They are slowly losing people and will likely shut down.
Some churches are glitzy and successful. They look vibrant and alive, but they’re really only alive to themselves and their institution. They look alive, but they’re dying and they don’t know it.
Then there’s the church that could be big or small, glitzy or drab, that dies to itself daily – that has taken up the cross and is more concerned with following Christ, no matter what it costs, than its survival.
All churches are dying. Only the third type of church will experience a resurrection.
Another from Capon:
Jesus came to raise the dead. The only qualification for the gift of the Gospel is to be dead. You don’t have to be smart. You don’t have to be good. You don’t have to be wise. You don’t have to be wonderful. You don’t have to be anything…you just have to be dead. That’s it.
One from James Forbes (via Capon, of course):
Jim Forbes spent three days pounding away at one point: The church can’t rise because it refuses to drop dead. The fact that it’s dying, he said (I’m paraphrasing him, not quoting), is of no use to it whatsoever: dying is simply the world’s most uncomfortable way of remaining alive. If you are to be raised from the dead, the only thing that can make you a candidate is to go all the way into death. Death, not life, is God’s recipe for fixing up the world. (See Jesus: “Those who save their life will lose it; those who lose their life for my sake and the Gospel will save it.”)
And finally the text that will shape my message more than any other:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:7-14)
I have a real burden in my heart for First UMC in Pottstown right now. I need to find a way to put all these thoughts and ideas together in a coherent message (hopefully only 15 to 20 minutes long) that will maybe, just maybe, reach the hearts and minds of at least a few other people. You see, my church (like all other churches) is dying, and it would be good if it would just die in the right way (to itself) rather than in the wrong way (fade away into history).